Students build a future through Engineering Career Pathway
Published July 6, 2022
For Jonathan O’Grady, the clues were there from the beginning. When he was little, he really liked building things with Legos. Then, he found he loved to spend time with his grandfather in the woodworking shop set up in the garage. Entering Wheeling High School, he jumped at the chance to take a woodshop class.
And when he learned about District 214’s Robot Rumble robotics competition, O’Grady says he was all in. “By freshman year, I 100% knew I was going into manufacturing and engineering,” he says.
O’Grady took his lifetime interest and pursued the engineering and manufacturing career pathway at Wheeling. He began with woodshop, then enrolled in the district’s introduction to engineering design course—an overview course intended to give students a broad look at post-secondary and career opportunities.
Subsequent courses in the pathway also are designed to give students hands-on learning opportunities. Jeff Bott, division head at Buffalo Grove High School, says, “Engineering and manufacturing go hand in hand. All too often we hear from companies that there are too many people going to school and getting engineering degrees without experience on lathes or mills. In a theoretical world, you can design anything. But in the real world, you need to put constraints on it based on the types of machinery a company might use. All too often engineering students don’t understand the machinery. If you want to be a good architect or a good engineer, you have to learn to turn a screwdriver and swing a hammer.”
Michael Geist, who taught O’Grady in his engineering and manufacturing classes at Wheeling, agrees. “We have talked with employers, who say there’s a lack of experience with skills,” he says. “You see kids who want to be an engineer but have never taken an engineering or manufacturing class, never picked up a hammer, never fixed something. But if you see what our kids are doing in the classroom in District 214, they are using the same equipment and tools they will use in future careers.” The goal is to provide an authentic experience.
Bott says his team also offers 8 to 10-week after-school programs for middle school students. “We try to reach kids early, and develop their interest in engineering and manufacturing so they can take advantage of all the pathway has to offer,” he says.
No one had to cultivate an interest in O’Grady, of course. He took a series of engineering and manufacturing classes at Wheeling, from computer integrated manufacturing to robotics, and while in high school earned two certifications from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.
In October of his senior year, he applied for a manufacturing apprenticeship program via the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT), a program established by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest, and was placed at Wieland Thermal Solutions, a German manufacturing company with a facility in Wheeling. He signed a contract for a five-year apprenticeship immediately after graduating from Wheeling in May 2021, and started the apprenticeship two weeks later.
Now he alternates his time between classes at Harper College and on-the-job training at Wieland. He completed his first year of the apprenticeship in June and is thrilled.
“I’m a dyslexic student and always struggled to read and write. I think in pictures most of the time. So for me, making things is easier. The pathway really helped me explore something I am good at and find a career,” he says.